“We did quite good. Slightly better than last year,” Mr. Robert Kwee, Executive Vice President of SM Hypermarket told the Business Mirror when asked recently about the local retail industry’s performance during the Christmas Holidays when shopping in the country is, traditionally, at its peak.

The SM exec’s positive assessment is likewise shared by one of Robinsons Supermarket‘s top honcho, Assistant Vice-President Bonifacio Y. Mabanta, who claimed in the same Business Mirror report that their December 1-21, 2008 sales were 14% higher than the previous year’s.

But while major supermarket chains in this side of the Earth are all-smiles because of the mind-blowing profits generated from the heavy buying Filipinos carried out during the Christmas season, retailers in countries where frenzied consumer spending during the Holidays were invented are experiencing record-low sales – quite a number of them are actually at the brink of closing shop.

Shopping gloom

In the United States, retail-sales for the shopping period of November and December 2008 plunged to as low as 8%, making this year’s holiday shopping period the worst in decades. According to Michael McNamara, Vice President of research and analysis for MasterCard Inc.’s SpendingPulse, among the hardest hit in the US retail industry were the apparel, electronics and appliance categories.

In Europe, shopping is also at their lowest levels.

woolworthsCentury-old British shopping chain Woolworths is closing down nearly half of its stores because of poor sales. Analysts say this is likely to become one of the most high-profile casualties in the biting financial crisis worldwide and in Britain’s economic downturn. According to reports, of the 813 Woolworths shops across England, 200 will close on December 30 (today) and another 200 will follow suit on January 2 and January 5. Expected to be affected by Woolworths’ demise are some 27,000 of its employees.

Three other known shops in Britain have actually bit the dust. They were: music retailer Zavvi, which employed more than 3,000 people; luxury tea-sellers Whittard; and menswear retailer Officers Club. Market experts are even predicting that 25 other regional and national retail chains in Britain would soon close shop by the end of next month.

So there goes the season of giving in the world’s economic heavyweights as the holiday shopping gloom in the US and Britain brought about by the unprecedented economic crisis weighed heavily on their shopkeepers’ backs.

But lo and behold, everything’s all rosy here in the local front. Here, big shot retailers have all the reason to be merry, and that’s because of the army of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) scattered all over the world.


SM Investments Corp. (SMIC) has reported that their earnings for the third quarter of 2008 registered an increase of 7.3% or a whopping P3.618 billion compared to last year’s P3.373 billion.

In the first nine months of the year alone, SM said their retail sales soared to as high as 20% or P81.9 billion, while their consolidated revenues have also expanded 16.9 percent to P97.4 billion.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer has also reported that just last year, the SM fleet of malls sold more than 21 million pairs of shoes, 50 million kilos of chicken, more than a million umbrellas, 18 million movie tickets and served 400 million meals to more than 900 million shoppers.

henry-syThis is why SM’s owner, billionaire Henry Sy, doesn’t seem to miss out on the yearly Christmas cheer (unlike his fellow shopkeepers in the US and UK). And this isn’t because he’s always on Santa’s ‘nice’ list, mind you.

Mr. Sy’s mall empire is built from the combination of his sheer capitalist greed and freeloading mindset characterized in the exploitation of his army of lowly-paid, docile contractual workers and, of course, his parasitical slant towards the massive migration of Filipinos overseas.

Yes folks, Sy is in fact benefiting big time from the government’s systematic export of OFWs abroad by providing the millions of remittance-dependent families here venues where they can spend their relatives’ hard-earned cash.

If not for the government’s unrestrained labor export program which undoubtedly is the primary source of money fuelling consumer spending here in the country, Sy wouldn’t be crazy rich as he is right now and would probably still be selling shoes in his humble shoe store in downtown Manila.

Sy began expansion of his mall empire during the early eighties at the height of massive deployment of Filipinos abroad. From 372,784 Filipinos deployed in the year 1985, the same year the first SM mall in North EDSA Quezon City was opened, the government now exports more than a million OFWs annually with deployment in the first 11 months of 2008 reaching 1.221 million.

Over the years we now have ten million OFWs in 190 countries worldwide. They remit an average of a billion dollars a month with the year 2007 registering a record high OFW remittance of US$14.45 billion. If this isn’t the same money Filipinos use to buy wares sold in all of Sy’s SM malls, I don’t know what is.

So, after opening his first shoe store in Manila in 1958; Sy now owns a fleet of 33 department stores, 24 supermarkets, 13 SaveMore branches, 13 SM Hypermarkets and 15 Makro outlets. He also owns the third largest mall on Earth (SM City North EDSA) and 3 SM malls in China.

So what? Some of you might ask. Sy, like the government, just saw an opportunity in the business of exporting humans given his superior entrepreneurial skills.

It’s downright parasitic that’s what!

While we have ten million OFWs doing mostly dirty, difficult, degrading and dangerous jobs worldwide; here’s Sy raking in billions from their sweat and blood.

If you think this big bourgeois comprador is already satisfied in cornering billions of OFW money via his ever expanding mall empire, think again. Mr. Sy too has ventured into real estate hoping to cash-in on the OFW property buying boom.

In the first half of the year alone, Sy’s real estate arm, SM Development Corp. has disclosed that they have pre-sold 1,458 housing units worth P2.5 billion. The company also has five on going housing projects in Quezon City, Paranaque and Muntinlupa; and another five condominium projects within the Metropolis and Tagaytay. According to SM Investments Corp., revenues in their real estate operations surged to almost a hundred fold with sales of up to P4.2 billion.

Sy has also gone banking just recently, and guess what? It’s OFW money that he’s after…again.

When 90% of OFW remittances were coursed through Philippine banking channels in the year 2006, the ever enterprising Sy set out to corner OFW remittances by merging his bank, Banco de Oro Universal Bank (BDO), with Equitable PCI Bank.

Thanks to BDO’s aggressive promotions trained at the OFW and their families’ market, it has now become one of the leading players in the Philippine remittance business. It has also become the second largest bank in the country in terms of assets, second in terms of loans and third in terms of deposits.

But despite the outrageous amount of money he has blood sucked from our OFWs throughout the years, we have yet to see Mr. Sy who is now in the twilight of his years give-back to the sector who’s the guilty party behind his rags to riches story.

So it is in the spirit of the incoming New Year that I suggest the following New Year’s Resolutions for Mr. Sy.

  1. Scrap remittance charges and fees in all BDO branches.
  2. Give special discounts for OFWs and their families in all SM malls.
  3. Provide scholarships to OFW dependents.
  4. Hand out livelihood packages to poor but deserving OFW families.
  5. Help in repatriating the thousands of stranded OFWs especially in the Middle East by paying for their airfare.
  6. Sponsor the blood money for OFWs languishing in Middle East’s death row.

Have a happy new year everyone!